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THE PERFECT BRAINEdit

The song that had been upon her lips as she entered died

there--frozen by the sight of horror that met her eyes. In the

center of the chamber a headless body lay upon the floor--a body

that had been partially devoured--while over and upon it crawled

a half a dozen heads upon their short, spider legs, and they tore

at the flesh of the woman with their chelae and carried the bits

to their awful mouths. They were eating human flesh--eating it

raw!


Tara of Helium gasped in horror and turning away covered her eyes

with her palms.


"Come!" said her captor. "What is the matter?"


"They are eating the flesh of the woman," she whispered in tones

of horror.


"Why not?" he inquired. "Did you suppose that we kept the rykor

for labor alone? Ah, no. They are delicious when kept and

fattened. Fortunate, too, are those that are bred for food, since

they are never called upon to do aught but eat."


"It is hideous!" she cried.


He looked at her steadily for a moment, but whether in surprise,

in anger, or in pity his expressionless face did not reveal. Then

he led her on across the room past the frightful thing, from

which she turned away her eyes. Lying about the floor near the

walls were half a dozen headless bodies in harness. These she

guessed had been abandoned temporarily by the feasting heads

until they again required their services. In the walls of this

room there were many of the small, round openings she had noticed

in various parts of the tunnels, the purpose of which she could

not guess.


They passed through another corridor and then into a second

chamber, larger than the first and more brilliantly illuminated.

Within were several of the creatures with heads and bodies

assembled, while many headless bodies lay about near the walls.

Here her captor halted and spoke to one of the occupants of the

chamber.


"I seek Luud," he said. "I bring to Luud a creature that I

captured in the fields above."


The others crowded about to examine Tara of Helium. One of them

whistled, whereupon the girl learned something of the smaller

openings in the walls, for almost immediately there crawled from

them, like giant spiders, a score or more of the hideous heads.

Each sought one of the recumbent bodies and fastened itself in

place. Immediately the bodies reacted to the intelligent

direction of the heads. They arose, the hands adjusted the

leather collars and put the balance of the harness in order, then

the creatures crossed the room to where Tara of Helium stood. She

noted that their leather was more highly ornamented than that

worn by any of the others she had previously seen, and so she

guessed that these must be higher in authority than the others.

Nor was she mistaken. The demeanor of her captor indicated it. He

addressed them as one who holds intercourse with superiors.


Several of those who examined her felt her flesh, pinching it

gently between thumb and forefinger, a familiarity that the girl

resented. She struck down their hands. "Do not touch me!" she

cried, imperiously, for was she not a princess of Helium? The

expression on those terrible faces did not change. She could not

tell whether they were angry or amused, whether her action had

filled them with respect for her, or contempt. Only one of them

spoke immediately.


"She will have to be fattened more," he said.


The girl's eyes went wide with horror. She turned upon her

captor. "Do these frightful creatures intend to devour me?" she

cried.


"That is for Luud to say," he replied, and then he leaned closer

so that his mouth was near her ear. "That noise you made which

you called song pleased me," he whispered, "and I will repay you

by warning you not to antagonize these kaldanes. They are very

powerful. Luud listens to them. Do not call them frightful. They

are very handsome. Look at their wonderful trappings, their gold,

their jewels."


"Thank you," she said. "You called them kaldanes--what does that

mean?"


"We are all kaldanes," he replied.


"You, too?" and she pointed at him, her slim finger directed

toward his chest.


"No, not this," he explained, touching his body; "this is a

rykor; but this," and he touched his head, "is a kaldane. It is

the brain, the intellect, the power that directs all things. The

rykor," he indicated his body, "is nothing. It is not so much

even as the jewels upon our harness; no, not so much as the

harness itself. It carries us about. It is true that we would

find difficulty getting along without it; but it has less value

than harness or jewels because it is less difficult to

reproduce." He turned again to the other kaldanes. "Will you

notify Luud that I am here?" he asked.


"Sept has already gone to Luud. He will tell him," replied one.

"Where did you find this rykor with the strange kaldane that

cannot detach itself?"


The girl's captor narrated once more the story of her capture. He

stated facts just as they had occurred, without embellishment,

his voice as expressionless as his face, and his story was

received in the same manner that it was delivered. The creatures

seemed totally lacking in emotion, or, at least, the capacity to

express it. It was impossible to judge what impression the story

made upon them, or even if they heard it. Their protruding eyes

simply stared and occasionally the muscles of their mouths opened

and closed. Familiarity did not lessen the horror the girl felt

for them. The more she saw of them the more repulsive they

seemed. Often her body was shaken by convulsive shudders as she

looked at the kaldanes, but when her eyes wandered to the

beautiful bodies and she could for a moment expunge the heads

from her consciousness the effect was soothing and refreshing,

though when the bodies lay, headless, upon the floor they were

quite as shocking as the heads mounted on bodies. But by far the

most grewsome and uncanny sight of all was that of the heads

crawling about upon their spider legs. If one of these should

approach and touch her Tara of Helium was positive that she

should scream, while should one attempt to crawl up her

person--ugh! the very idea induced a feeling of faintness.


Sept returned to the chamber. "Luud will see you and the captive.

Come!" he said, and turned toward a door opposite that through

which Tara of Helium had entered the chamber. "What is your

name?" His question was directed to the girl's captor.


"I am Ghek, third foreman of the fields of Luud," he answered.


"And hers?"


"I do not know."


"It makes no difference. Come!"


The patrician brows of Tara of Helium went high. It made no

difference, indeed! She, a princess of Helium; only daughter of

The Warlord of Barsoom!


"Wait!" she cried. "It makes much difference who I am. If you are

conducting me into the presence of your jed you may announce The

Princess Tara of Helium, daughter of John Carter, The Warlord of

Barsoom."


"Hold your peace!" commanded Sept. "Speak when you are spoken to.

Come with me!"


The anger of Tara of Helium all but choked her. "Come,"

admonished Ghek, and took her by the arm, and Tara of Helium

came. She was naught but a prisoner. Her rank and titles meant

nothing to these inhuman monsters. They led her through a short,

S-shaped passageway into a chamber entirely lined with the white,

tile-like material with which the interior of the light wall was

faced. Close to the base of the walls were numerous smaller

apertures, circular in shape, but larger than those of similar

aspect that she had noted elsewhere. The majority of these

apertures were sealed. Directly opposite the entrance was one

framed in gold, and above it a peculiar device was inlaid in the

same precious metal.


Sept and Ghek halted just within the room, the girl between them,

and all three stood silently facing the opening in the opposite

wall. On the floor beside the aperture lay a headless male body

of almost heroic proportions, and on either side of this stood a

heavily armed warrior, with drawn sword. For perhaps five minutes

the three waited and then something appeared in the opening. It

was a pair of large chelae and immediately thereafter there

crawled forth a hideous kaldane of enormous proportions. He was

half again as large as any that Tara of Helium had yet seen and

his whole aspect infinitely more terrible. The skin of the others

was a bluish gray--this one was of a little bluer tinge and the

eyes were ringed with bands of white and scarlet, as was its

mouth.


From each nostril a band of white and one of scarlet extended

outward horizontally the width of the face.


No one spoke or moved. The creature crawled to the prostrate body

and affixed itself to the neck. Then the two rose as one and

approached the girl. He looked at her and then he spoke to her

captor.


"You are the third foreman of the fields of Luud?" he asked.


"Yes, Luud; I am called Ghek."


"Tell me what you know of this," and he nodded toward Tara of

Helium.


Ghek did as he was bid and then Luud addressed the girl.


"What were you doing within the borders of Bantoom?" he asked.


"I was blown hither in a great storm that injured my flier and

carried me I knew not where. I came down into the valley at night

for food and drink. The banths came and drove me to the safety of

a tree, and then your people caught me as I was trying to leave

the valley. I do not know why they took me. I was doing no harm.

All I ask is that you let me go my way in peace."


"None who enters Bantoom ever leaves," replied Luud.


"But my people are not at war with yours. I am a princess of

Helium; my great-grandfather is a jeddak; my grandfather a jed;

and my father is Warlord of all Barsoom. You have no right to

keep me and I demand that you liberate me at once."


"None who enters Bantoom ever leaves," repeated the creature

without expression. "I know nothing of the lesser creatures of

Barsoom, of whom you speak. There is but one high race--the race

of Bantoomians. All Nature exists to serve them. You shall do

your share, but not yet--you are too skinny. We shall have to put

some fat upon it, Sept. I tire of rykor. Perhaps this will have a

different flavor. The banths are too rank and it is seldom that

any other creature enters the valley. And you, Ghek; you shall be

rewarded. I shall promote you from the fields to the burrows.

Hereafter you shall remain underground as every Bantoomian longs

to. No more shall you be forced to endure the hated sun, or look

upon the hideous sky, or the hateful growing things that defile

the surface. For the present you shall look after this thing that

you have brought me, seeing that it sleeps and eats--and does

nothing else. You understand me, Ghek; nothing else!"


"I understand, Luud," replied the other.


"Take it away!" commanded the creature.


Ghek turned and led Tara of Helium from the apartment. The girl

was horrified by contemplation of the fate that awaited her--a

fate from which it seemed, there was no escape. It was only too

evident that these creatures possessed no gentle or chivalric

sentiments to which she could appeal, and that she might escape

from the labyrinthine mazes of their underground burrows appeared

impossible.


Outside the audience chamber Sept overtook them and conversed

with Ghek for a brief period, then her keeper led her through a

confusing web of winding tunnels until they came to a small

apartment.


"We are to remain here for a while. It may be that Luud will send

for you again. If he does you will probably not be fattened--he

will use you for another purpose." It was fortunate for the

girl's peace of mind that she did not realize what he meant.

"Sing for me," said Ghek, presently.


Tara of Helium did not feel at all like singing, but she sang,

nevertheless, for there was always the hope that she might escape

if given the opportunity and if she could win the friendship of

one of the creatures, her chances would be increased

proportionately. All during the ordeal, for such it was to the

overwrought girl, Ghek stood with his eyes fixed upon her.


"It is wonderful," he said, when she had finished; "but I did not

tell Luud--you noticed that I did not tell Luud about it. Had he

known, he would have had you sing to him and that would have

resulted in your being kept with him that he might hear you sing

whenever he wished; but now I can have you all the time."


"How do you know he would like my singing?" she asked.


"He would have to," replied Ghek. "If I like a thing he has to

like it, for are we not identical--all of us?"


"The people of my race do not all like the same things," said the

girl.


"How strange!" commented Ghek. "All kaldanes like the same things

and dislike the same things. If I discover something new and like

it I know that all kaldanes will like it. That is how I know that

Luud would like your singing. You see we are all exactly alike."


"But you do not look like Luud," said the girl.


"Luud is king. He is larger and more gorgeously marked; but

otherwise he and I are identical, and why not? Did not Luud

produce the egg from which I hatched?"


"What?" queried the girl; "I do not understand you."


"Yes," explained Ghek, "all of us are from Luud's eggs, just as

all the swarm of Moak are from Moak's eggs."


"Oh!" exclaimed Tara of Helium understandingly; "you mean that

Luud has many wives and that you are the offspring of one of

them."


"No, not that at all," replied Ghek. "Luud has no wife. He lays

the eggs himself. You do not understand."


Tara of Helium admitted that she did not.


"I will try to explain, then," said Ghek, "if you will promise to

sing to me later."


"I promise," she said.


"We are not like the rykors," he began. "They are creatures of a

low order, like yourself and the banths and such things. We have

no sex--not one of us except our king, who is bi-sexual. He

produces many eggs from which we, the workers and the warriors,

are hatched; and one in every thousand eggs is another king egg,

from which a king is hatched. Did you notice the sealed openings

in the room where you saw Luud? Sealed in each of those is

another king. If one of them escaped he would fall upon Luud and

try to kill him and if he succeeded we should have a new king;

but there would be no difference. His name would be Luud and all

would go on as before, for are we not all alike? Luud has lived a

long time and has produced many kings, so he lets only a few live

that there may be a successor to him when he dies. The others he

kills."


"Why does he keep more than one?" queried the girl.


"Sometimes accidents occur," replied Ghek, "and all the kings

that a swarm has saved are killed. When this happens the swarm

comes and obtains another king from a neighboring swarm."


"Are all of you the children of Luud?" she asked.


"All but a few, who are from the eggs of the preceding king, as

was Luud; but Luud has lived a long time and not many of the

others are left."


"You live a long time, or short?" Tara asked.


"A very long time."


"And the rykors, too; they live a long time?"


"No; the rykors live for ten years, perhaps," he said, "if they

remain strong and useful. When they can no longer be of service

to us, either through age or sickness, we leave them in the

fields and the banths come at night and get them."


"How horrible!" she exclaimed.


"Horrible?" he repeated. "I see nothing horrible about that.

The rykors are but brainless flesh. They neither see, nor feel,

nor hear. They can scarce move but for us. If we did not bring

them food they would starve to death. They are less deserving of

thought than our leather. All that they can do for themselves is

to take food from a trough and put it in their mouths, but with

us--look at them!" and he proudly exhibited the noble figure that

he surmounted, palpitant with life and energy and feeling.


"How do you do it?" asked Tara of Helium. "I do not understand it

at all."


"I will show you," he said, and lay down upon the floor. Then he

detached himself from the body, which lay as a thing dead. On his

spider legs he walked toward the girl. "Now look," he admonished

her. "Do you see this thing?" and he extended what appeared to be

a bundle of tentacles from the posterior part of his head. "There

is an aperture just back of the rykor's mouth and directly over

the upper end of his spinal column. Into this aperture I insert

my tentacles and seize the spinal cord. Immediately I control

every muscle of the rykor's body--it becomes my own, just as you

direct the movement of the muscles of your body. I feel what the

rykor would feel if he had a head and brain. If he is hurt, I

would suffer if I remained connected with him; but the instant

one of them is injured or becomes sick we desert it for another.

As we would suffer the pains of their physical injuries,

similarly do we enjoy the physical pleasures of the rykors. When

your body becomes fatigued you are comparatively useless; it is

sick, you are sick; if it is killed, you die. You are the slave

of a mass of stupid flesh and bone and blood. There is nothing

more wonderful about your carcass than there is about the carcass

of a banth. It is only your brain that makes you superior to the

banth, but your brain is bound by the limitations of your body.

Not so, ours. With us brain is everything. Ninety per centum of

our volume is brain. We have only the simplest of vital organs

and they are very small for they do not have to assist in the

support of a complicated system of nerves, muscles, flesh and

bone. We have no lungs, for we do not require air. Far below the

levels to which we can take the rykors is a vast network of

burrows where the real life of the kaldane is lived. There the

air-breathing rykor would perish as you would perish. There we

have stored vast quantities of food in hermetically sealed

chambers. It will last forever. Far beneath the surface is water

that will flow for countless ages after the surface water is

exhausted. We are preparing for the time we know must come--the

time when the last vestige of the Barsoomian atmosphere is

spent--when the waters and the food are gone. For this purpose

were we created, that there might not perish from the planet

Nature's divinest creation--the perfect brain."


"But what purpose can you serve when that time comes?" asked the

girl.


"You do not understand," he said. "It is too big for you to

grasp, but I will try to explain it. Barsoom, the moons, the sun,

the stars, were created for a single purpose. From the beginning

of time Nature has labored arduously toward the consummation of

this purpose. At the very beginning things existed with life, but

with no brain. Gradually rudimentary nervous systems and minute

brains evolved. Evolution proceeded. The brains became larger and

more powerful. In us you see the highest development; but there

are those of us who believe that there is yet another step--that

some time in the far future our race shall develop into the

super-thing--just brain. The incubus of legs and chelae and vital

organs will be removed. The future kaldane will be nothing but a

great brain. Deaf, dumb, and blind it will lie sealed in its

buried vault far beneath the surface of Barsoom--just a great,

wonderful, beautiful brain with nothing to distract it from

eternal thought."


"You mean it will just lie there and think?" cried Tara of

Helium.


"Just that!" he exclaimed. "Could aught be more wonderful?"


"Yes," replied the girl, "I can think of a number of things that

would be infinitely more wonderful."